Ringing in tradition, innovating airpower

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kindra Stewart
  • 49th Wing Public Affairs

The 491st Attack Squadron, “the Ringers,” honored its first incoming commander, Lt. Col. Randall Noel, in a squadron activation and assumption of command ceremony, May 8, 2019, on Hancock Field Air National Guard Base, New York.

Noel formerly led the 6th and 16th Attack Squadrons on Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, as the Director of Operations, and Col. Jeffery Patton, 49th Operations Group commander, said his credibility to the group’s mission to operate, educate and innovate, makes him a leader the squadron and the students can look up to.

 “I think – and I am not alone in this – squadron command is the best job in the Air Force,” Patton said to Noel. “It’s a huge responsibility. The parents of every Ringer and every MQ-9 Reaper student are entrusting their sons and daughters to your hands today. I know they are in talented and capable hands. I know you will take care of them. As long as you do that, they will take care of you by getting the mission done, and they will surprise you by their ingenuity and motivation.”

In 2015, the U.S. Air Force’s Air Combat Command launched the Culture and Process Improvement Program – an innovative effort to establish, target and develop methods of improvement for the Air Force’s remotely piloted aircraft career fields, such as the MQ-9, ultimately resulting in the activation of the 491st.

While it took four years to establish the new squadron, the Ringers are now a part of a rich history beginning with the first unit to bear the name: the 79th Aero Squadron, activated on August 15, 1917, at Kelly Field Annex – now known as Joint Base San Antonio, Texas.

The unit was re-designated as the 491st Aero Squadron in February 1918, when the squadron served as a non-combat construction unit in France during World War I. After the war, the squadron returned home to Garden City, Long Island, New York, and was demobilized.

During brief activations, the Ringers served various roles, flying the B-25 Mitchell from 1942 to 1945, and the B-47 Stratojet from 1958 to 1961.

 The squadron laid dormant for nearly sixty years, until April 15, 2019, when the Ringers were officially reactivated and designated the 491st Attack Squadron on Hancock Field.

“Our squadron provides the Air Force additional capacity to produce MQ-9 aircrew,” said Noel, speaking after assuming command. “As we work hand in hand with the 108th Attack Squadron and Team Hancock, we have the potential to increase the graduation rate from 45, up to as many as 85 crews annually. You hit the ground running toward this year’s initial goal of 60. And at the same time, we offer additional assignment opportunities for our MQ-9 Airmen. We are a squadron comprised of more than aircrew, our squadron spans operations, maintenance, support and medical.”

The squadron currently has Airmen refueling aircraft daily on Hancock Field and Ft. Drum, New York, maintainers generating MQ-9s and cockpits, medical Airmen who ensure the pilots and sensor operators are receiving the care they need to fly, as well as an elite aircrew.

Noel’s speech highlighted the accomplishments of the aircrew, who were amongst the formation of Ringers in front of the stage.

“Currently we number 10 pilots and eight sensor operators and growing,” said Noel. “Having come from all areas of the MQ-9 community, you were handpicked for this and bring with you a wealth of experience. Your instruction here will be underpinned by nearly 30,000 flight hours in combat operations around the world. Having read your records, your service to this country is second-to-none, and your battlefield contributions are truly in keeping with the heritage of this great squadron and the Ringers who came before us in two World Wars. I am truly humbled to stand before you as your commander and I know the best thing I can do is empower you and support you, so you can lead and mentor the next generation of MQ-9 aircrew.”

At the end of the ceremony, the members of the 491st ATKS removed the patches from their previous units and replaced them with the historic emblem that was last designed in 1944.

As they donned their new patches, a new generation revived the memory and traditions of the Ringers who served before them.

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